Grow Your Firm

An Accounting Firm Sans April 15

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
accountant work life balance

April 15, 2021

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April 15

I don’t recall when I first understood that April 15 was a thing. Certainly long before I knew that it would be a thing for me due to a career choice. My first and only internship was with a small accounting firm in the middle of Nebraska, and during that time I experienced my first tax season and my first April 15. I prepared many tax returns—most of them relatively simple 1040s—but it was all new to me, so it was exciting and I learned a lot, although not all of it held up (e.g., “keep your tapes”). The partner who reviewed my work was intimidating but kind and generous with impressively illegible review notes. At the end-of-tax-season karaoke party, he did justice to Willie, Waylon, and Merle. After I was a bit Brahms and Liszt, I got up and butchered “A Boy Named Sue,” but I saw him smiling during my performance, so I figured he liked me well enough. The firm didn’t hire me full-time.

The point of this little tale is that for lots of accountants, April 15 looms large in our memories. And not just because of humiliating behavior that occurs at the after party. April 15 marks the end of an annual period of intense work, poor hygiene, and neglected family and friends. So much of what accountants do is wrapped up in reaching this seemingly arbitrary day in mid-April. Once April 15 comes and goes, accountants get their lives back… until the fall deadlines, of course, which are certifiably worse.

This year, as you know, the April 15 deadline was extended until May 17. Last year it was extended to July 15. The reasons for this are relatively obvious, however, it rendered April 15 far less meaningful—dare I say, meaningless—when compared to virtually every tax season before it.

What if it was like this every year?

We’ve been talking about what accounting firms should do next, post-pandemic, and while I’ve suggested specific things like—shameless plug—People Advisory, that may be too specific. What if some accounting firms just up and stopped caring about deadlines like April 15? “Well, they’d lose a lot of clients,” you might be saying. And what I’m saying is, “Wouldn’t that be great?”

If accounting firms untether themselves from April 15, et al, they would accomplish a number of things:

1. No more April 15.

2. No more stress and accompanying side effects—health, social, and otherwise.

3. No more acute seasonality to the firm’s business, which forces many to earn the bulk of their revenue in the first quarter-ish of the year.

In other words, firms would smooth out the year, smooth out the work, and smooth out the revenue. Less intensity. Less urgency. It probably would mean getting rid of lots—most—of your tax clients, yes, but I repeat: “Wouldn’t that be great?” Let the firms that are all in on tax work have it. Obviously, if you’re just starting out, you have any answer path: simply don’t take any tax work.

“Then what?” I don’t know! It’s not like there’s a shortage of other work. You’d get to figure it out. You get to focus on either whatever’s left after you scrap anything April 15-related, or build something new. The clients that remain will be thrilled that you have so much time for them. Your firm would have a fresh start, and the possibilities would be endless.

And, sure, you can throw an annual April 15 party if you want to. It doesn’t all have to make sense.

Paid paid time off

Americans don’t take vacation because they are trying to fill the void in their lives with work. This is known. Still, employers are trying to push their employees to take a break every now and again. And wouldn’t you know it, an accounting firm has decided that it’s time to pull out all the stops:

PwC will begin offering U.S. staffers $250 for every full week of vacation booked, up to $1,000 a year. The plan could cost the firm millions, but the company has exhausted other attempts to get employees to disconnect, says Tim Ryan, PwC’s U.S. chairman.

“We want to show people we’re serious,” Mr. Ryan says. “Economic incentives do have a way of helping.”

I can just picture Tim Ryan at the head of a long table with lieutenants sitting around racking their brains for ideas. “How do we show people that we’re serious about them taking time off?” he asks earnestly. People shake their heads, murmur quietly, and grimace in thought. Not a single word is uttered about accounting firms’ long history of toxic overwork culture. Finally, someone from the back corner: “What if we paid them to?” The whole room looks at Tim for a beat, and then they all nod sagely in agreement.

Excel skills

Did you know that Excel has an official Twitter account? Neither did I. Last week, it prompted followers for “the most complex Microsoft #Excel formula you’ve ever written” and some of the responses are terrifying. I thought some of you would appreciate that.

Bonus ExcelExcel hacks and templates for your clients that you probably don’t have the patience to teach them.

Bonus Twitter: If you’re like me, and you’re more into the intersection of accounting and literary incubus, you’ll appreciate Dark Accounting, a mashup of accounting standards and H.P. Lovecraft. Enjoy.

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Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.

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